Letter to the Editor: Restore Civility in Local Politics

Politics is not for the faint-hearted. Policymaking, on the other hand, requires skills at achieving compromise so as to advance the better interests of the community at large. I should know, having spent four decades in politics and policymaking in the nation’s capital, state houses, mayor’s offices, and numerous political campaigns. I have penned over 350 political opinion-editorial pieces in major newspapers, such as the Huffington Post and the LA Progressive and have written two books on public policy. 

I have seen both the best in policymaking, such as when elected officials have put their careers on the line in the name of personal integrity, and the worst in policymaking, when elected officials have succumbed to monied interests and popular will to vote against their better judgement.

The personal nature of the attacks leveled at council members Grisanti, Pierson, and Farrer recently is embarrassing to those who value public service and common decency. You may not agree with an individual’s rationale for decision-making but to level unwarranted attacks against the person’s character and integrity reflects a lack of skill. This is especially true given the folksy character of this community we call home. 

Impugning motives of those who spend long hours with little pay dedicated to making it better for the citizens, even those who may not have supported their campaigns, is truly a thankless job. You have every right to disagree but launching personal attacks is cowardly and exhibits a lack of restraint more befitting a spoiled child than a responsible adult.

The abandonment of civility, comity, and respect is the very cancer that has befallen our political system and it has aroused a passion that is not healthy for the betterment of the community as a whole. This has led to a cult-like adherence to self-destruction among a growing number of elected officials at all levels of government. 

There simply is no room for a misguided populism based more upon emotion than effective governing. Politicians at all levels, including our City Council, must speak out and reject such misguided behavior. 

Governing carries far more responsibility than campaigning. Following the popular will is not always leadership, and leadership does not equate to statesmanship. What is required of our elected officials is statesmanship, which entails vision and wisdom, and often forces one to make very difficult decisions. That will be the key to restoring a working representative democracy. 

Compromise and the process that produces consent is the lifeblood of our representative democratic system. As the most recent former chair of the Malibu Public Works Commission, I strove to every extent possible to secure passage of resolutions and policy proposals by unanimous consent and though tedious and frustrating sometimes we succeeded during my term.

This past week, however, while trying to put a positive spin on what has become a painfully contentious City Council meeting, Council Member Silverstein proceeded to offer an explanation of democracy that is both wrong-headed and simply wrong by offering that the way democracy works is not consensus but rather by tearing the system down by offering “you must tear the place down in order to make progress.”  

He either missed classes on our political system or failed to comprehend the history of this grand experiment. No wonder City Council meetings have become the zoo they are. You represent the citizens of Malibu, all of them, even those who did not vote for you. This is a heavy load and if you are not up to the job, then gracefully bow out. 

The system is breaking down but not broken, work to make it better, not rebuild it from the ground up. Chaos is a prescription befitting authoritarians. If you continue to spend all your time looking in the rear-view mirror, you will inevitably miss the twists and turns in front of you. That is progress and that is how the system works: slow, methodical, incremental and cautious.

Lance Simmens, Malibu 

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